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Are Kettlebell Swings Bad For Your Knees

author
Carole Stephens
• Monday, 28 December, 2020
• 15 min read

Very few training methods are either inherently good or bad, but the quality of their execution can make them so. Do it right and it's a highly effective training tool, whether you're a powerlifter, an athlete, or a figure competitor.

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Contents

If your lumbar spine is extended at lockout, then you're not going to get full hip extension at the same time. The quality of this movement pattern (the hip hinge) matters more than how many reps you're doing or how heavy the weight is.

A squat is training simultaneous flexion and extension at your knees, ankles and hips at once. In a hinge, most of the movement is isolated to the hips, with much less flexion-extension happening at the ankles and knees.

Your shins stay close to vertical, your torso drops forward and closer to perpendicular to the ground, and your butt pushes further back behind you. Stand tall, scoop your pelvis slightly under and exhale your ribs down.

Keep your weight balanced between three points: The balls of each foot and your heels. You'll feel your hamstrings load tension and stretch as you move into this position.

Your knees will flex somewhat as you push your hips back, but not to the same degree that they would in a squat. The exact amount of bend will depend on your individual skeletal structure and joint ratios.

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The forward swing comes from your hip snap and the active contraction of your glutes at the top. At this point, your abs should be braced, your pelvis scooped under, and your glutes locked out.

Keep your knees slightly soft at the top to discourage spinal extension. Right at the top you should be fully exhaled with a neutral spine, hard abs and your lower ribs pulled down.

Keep your ribs pulled down with hard abs, and feel your mid-back expand as you inhale, without shrugging your shoulders upward. Inhale through your nose with your teeth slightly apart and your tongue pressed to the roof of your mouth.

As the kettle bell drops to about belly button level you'll start your back swing. Think of two triangles formed by the lines from your shoulders to your hands, and from your knees to your groin.

You're making the points of those triangles stay close to one another at the end of the back swing. Maintain the rest of your checkpoints: heels rooted through the ground, shins vertical and abs braced.

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Rather than doing a full swing, you're practicing the initial lowering phase and then standing up straight like a dead lift. Weak Lock-Out Sometimes people will lack full hip extension with braced abs and locked-out glutes at the top of the movement.

You can check for this by tapping the back of your fist into someone's abs and/or glutes right at the peak of the swing. Viewed from the side, your body should look vertical, much the same as it does when you're setting up in your stance at the very beginning.

When you see this flaw and know that the person is capable of moving well and getting a solid lockout, it's often the result of fatigue. There's often a lot of lumbar compensation and weak abdominal bracing in this type of movement.

This changes the outcome and shifts force away from the hips and into the quads and knees. It also brings an increased risk of using your lower back to generate force, since it's harder to get the kettle bell to chest height when you're relying on your quads and a vertical movement of the weight.

Hyper extended Lumbar Spine Most of us are predisposed to hold excessive tension and extension (arching) in our lower backs. We often baseline with our pelvis extended (tipped forward), and the lower ribs on the front of our body flared outward.

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Extension in these areas makes it difficult for your oblique and transverse abs to function and fire effectively, and weak abs can't control your spine, pelvis and thorax. Train with a purpose, and if you start to lose a good movement pattern, stop what you're doing.

Remember the dual triangle cue and touch the tips of the triangles with each rep. You can also stand over a short box (around 12 inches) and swing over the box to practice avoiding this. To help counter this, pack your shoulders by putting them down into their sockets and slightly squeezing together.

Sometimes just shifting eye position makes a big difference. Has someone held a clipboard about a foot behind you and try to hit it with the kettle bell on the back swing.

The solution is to isolate this component and practice it under lower complexity and stress. Remember, you can't fully extend your hips with a hyper extended spine, so the first step in getting good hip movement is repositioning the spine, pelvis, and ribs.

For the bridge, lie on your back and place something like a rolled up towel or empty water bottle between your knees. Squeeze your glutes as you reach the top and make sure your abs are tense and your ribs stay down.

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You should feel tension in your glutes and hamstrings, but not in your lower back or quads. If you understand your purpose in doing swings, understand the criteria that allow you to meet that purpose, and then consciously practice with those criteria in mind, you'll build strong, safe, and resilient movement.

You can still exercise your body and get some enormous results without a full knee bend. The Kettle bell Swing is the perfect exercise choice for those suffering with bad knees because it works your cardio hard without you needing to fully bend your knees or use knee jolting impact.

The kettle bell swing uses the buttocks, hips, quads, hamstrings and back during each repetition. Step ups can offer you the perfect flexibility to strengthen your legs, buttocks and hips while avoiding knee pain.

Begin by using a step height that allows you to perform 10 – 15 repetitions on each side without causing you any knee pain. Your goal is 3 sets of 15 reps on each side WITHOUT pain, 3 times per week.

Continue practicing the workout 3 times per week until you manage to raise the step to knee height. You can now start adding extra load, by holding a kettle bell in both hands or a pair of dumbbells.

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If you avoid all squatting and lunging movements you are setting yourself up for further injuries in the future due to the compensations your body has to make. Take your time and work through the following 3 steps in order to help improve your knees.

Take action : Stretch, Roll, Massage your quads at least daily (5 minutes) If you lack mobility at your hips or ankles then the knee joint has to work overtime.

Skiers damage their knees because they remove the ability for the ankle to become mobile when wearing ski boots. Basketball players used to get bad knees because high top boots restricted movement at the ankle.

Take action : mobilize your ankles and hips daily (5 minutes) Bending and extending any joint of the body creates a pumping of nutrients.

Movement of any painful joint is a vital part of its healing process Start by practicing the squat holding onto a wall, post, chair etc.

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Keep you weight back on your heals to take the strain away from your knees and into the hamstrings and buttocks. Continue daily for 5 – 10 reps each time trying to go deeper but avoiding pain.

Take action : perform 5 – 10 assisted squats, as deep and pain-free as possible, daily Use the following kettle bell swing workout to strengthen the hamstrings, quads, buttocks, hip and back without overloading the knees.

Once you can complete the following workout comfortably replace the kettle bell swing for the assisted squat exercise (using a pole or resistance band as shown above). I hope you have found this useful and if you do suffer from bad knees it will help on your road to recovery.

It’s an explosive and natural expression of hip extension, a key portion of your vertical leap and your sprinter’s stride, too. You stand grasping a kettle bell with both hands, core tight, toes pointed ever-so-slightly outward, knees slightly bent.

From there, you push your butt back slightly and hinge at the waist, letting momentum take the kettle bell behind your thighs. Momentum carries the kettle bell upwards and in front of you, and your arms drive forward, typically until they’re parallel to the ground, in the process.

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In practice, the American swing frequently takes the emphasis off your mammies and glutes, and average gym-goers over-involve muscles that aren't meant for the job, such as the shoulders and lower back. In general, you always want to choose exercises that minimize risk and maximize the benefits that’ll push you to your goals.

You should evaluate all exercises this way (and not be afraid to question your group fitness trainer either -- it’s their job to answer you). American swing fans have two key arguments that fail to account for the way the general population actually moves.

It’s a demonstration of true shoulder flexion at the top of each rep, that your mid- and upper-back muscles will fire. In this way, it’s a total body exercise, and superior and more “complete” than the Russian kettle bell swing.

So that means, by default, they’re destined to perform the American swing incorrectly (and I've seen “fit” folks wreck this move, too). Targeting muscles is important, even if “all-workouts-should-be-total-body” nation doesn't understand that, because it's a key method of correcting weaknesses in both your mechanics and your physique.

Quick test: Lie with your belly on the ground, arms and legs long in front of you. Driving the shoulders into true overhead position isn’t as natural as you may think.

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When forced to hit a true arms-directly-overhead position, many people compensate with movement in other areas, often arching their upper or (worse!) The basic swing lets you move a fairly heavy weight, since it relies on two of your body’s most powerful muscle groups, the legs and glutes, to generate the majority of the force.

If those muscle groups can’t power the bell to the dumb American standard, the shoulders and lower back do the brunt of the extra work -- except they’re not meant to move the same load as the glutes and mammies. So the shoulder muscles and smaller upper-body stabilizers take over that large load.

The American swing crowd might contend that this isn’t all that different from a snatch anyway, hamstrings and glutes firing. Thing is, both the barbell and single-arm snatch versions let you drive weights overhead while rotating and spreading your shoulders more freely to create joint space for your rotator cuff tendons.

That can’t happen when both hands are grasping a kettle bell handle with a close grip. Really think and focus on the American kettle bell swing, be super-controlled and mindful of your whole body, and you have your best shot.

They rely on high rep loads, and, eventually, fatigue piles on. Station-to-station randomness makes things worse: if the American swing’s your first move, your mind and your shoulder blades aren’t fatigued.

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You could go “lighter” on the weight with the American swing, both in a class setting and in your own workouts, focusing on form. Except then, your hamstrings and glutes, the targets of the classic swing, simply don’t get to move as much weight.

Unless you compete in CrossFit (where the American swing sometimes shows up in competition), the wildest part about the stupidity of the American kettle bell swing is that there’s a much simpler way to achieve the super-aggressive hip extension and explosive glute contraction that it is supposed to bring. There’s a smarter, less injury-inducing way to push your glutes and hamstrings to “pop” more than they do on your average Russian swing.

Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S., is the fitness director of Men's Health and a certified trainer with more than 10 years of training experience. This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses.

The strengthening of your quads, hamstrings and calves from classic kettle bell exercises may be just what the doctor ordered -- and no surprise, sports medicine specialists are moving toward these cannonball-shaped weights as part of rehab for athletic injuries of the lower extremities. Given your chronic knee complaint, ask your health care provider or physical therapist for clearance before beginning a kettle bell workout.

“The key is to perform hip-dominant movements, so that the glutes and hip flexors carry the load of the weight, not the knees,” advises New York-based kettle bell trainer Lorna Seaman. The foundational movement of kettle bells, which allows you to copy the power and beauty of explosive barbell Olympic lifts, is the swing -- and it’s well within the scope of a workout for Nestles with bad knees.

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“And because it’s nonimpact, it’s a safe and effective movement.” The swing entails a hip-propelled move of the kettle bell from between the thighs to eye level, repeated 15 to 20 times as part of three to four sets. You can add work on the hip flexors, abs and obliques, as well as continue to exercise your spinal muscles and glutes, with the standing alternating knee lift.

This exercise continues to address your quads, hamstrings and glutes, as well as abs and spinal muscles, with biceps work an added bonus. For the goblet squat, hold the bell by the handles for a challenge or by your body against your chest for an easier workout.

In today’s world we spend the majority of our days doing things in front of us with terrible posture. Cubicles) for hours at a time not moving and making the front of our body even tighter.

If You’re Not Doing The Kettle bell Swing, You’re Destined To Stay Fat, Tight & Weak For The Rest Of Your Life! This overuse of the muscles on the front side of our bodies is called “anterior dominance” and it is plaguing our society.

FrequencyExercise TypeIntensityRepetitionsRest up to 7x per week strength training high intensity varies by workout varies by workout Once labelled “hard core”, kettle bells are now popping up in every gym, garage and backyard because of their portability and reputation for fast results. Go into any gym and you’ll see inexperienced exercisers turning a swing into a front squat and shoulder raise exercise further tightening our hips, quads, chest and shoulders and just adding to the anterior dominance issue that I told you about above.

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Always making sure your shoulders stay above the level of your hips, “hike pass” the kettle bell through your knees by contracting your lats. When you push your hips back keeping your butt high and your shins vertical, you are hinging.

This is good because most people today are hip flexor and quad dominant (your anterior muscles), so learning how to load and use your posterior chain creates a natural balance between front and back that will help in preventing knee and hip issues. Imagine that you are growing roots through your feet and grab the ground with your entire foot.

Getting proper instruction from an expert so that you can MASTER THE KETTLEBELL SWING is the best thing that you can do for your training regardless of your goal. If you want to build strength, kettlebellswings will forge a grip of steel and will add pounds to your dead lift & squat.

If you want to boost your athleticism, kettlebellswings will make you more powerful and add height to your jump and shave seconds off your sprints. If you want to pack on muscle, swinging a heavy kettle bell will build an intimidating upper back & set of shoulders.

And if you want to shed body fat, swings will incinerate blubber like butter melting in an iron pan. Grab a kettle bell in your first week of training and start doing snatches like you’ve seen other more seasoned kettle bell enthusiasts perform with ease, and you’re playing with fire, there is no doubt you’re going to get hurt.

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The same applies to grabbing a barbell in your first week of training and start snatching it like you’re in the CrossFit Games, you’re going to get hurt. This fact doesn’t change whether you take a dumbbell, tax, sandbag, fit ball or anything else, you need to respect the tool, treat it with care and progress from step one.

*I throw the “Assisted single-arm clean” in very early, as I like my students to get familiar with the corkscrew motion, dealing with the proper weight distribution of the kettle bell to avoid pressure on the forearm, which is not dealt with early-on hinders progression at the stage of racking, cleaning and pressing. Yes if you start doing weird things that you should not be doing or your body is just not ready for, otherwise, no they’re not bad for your shoulders, they’re amazing for shaping your shoulders, creating better range of motion, making them stronger and resilient to injury.

The people that ask these questions either have participated in a kettle bell class with a cowboy trainer teaching or heard their friend complain about their back who just started swinging the bell while watching the Julian Michael's version on YouTube. I would lie if I said I never seen anyone get injured during kettle bell training, I’ve never seen serious injury from a kettle bell, I have seen people out for a week because they did not listen to the weight suggested to them, they did not listen when the coach said, take a step back, regress and learn the hip hinge first.

I've listened to many of your interviews and incorporated much of what you and Tim have recommended into my weekly workouts, specifically the kettle bell swing. But just recently, Tim interviewed Charles Poliquin, and he highly recommended NOT doing kettlebellswings saying it was bad for the back.

The most striking flaws coming to my mind is not to brace on the top (hyper extension), not to pull the shoulder blades back, not letting the bell coming back to your braced body (hinging far to early), to let the body twist in one hand swings, too much squatting. Studies need to be looked at individually as most would have to be conducted on inexperienced practitioners to get a decent sample size, plus the time frame parameters of an average study would also most likely not allow for one to meet an SF swing standard if not already familiar with it, again the study would need to be presented to be discussed rather than just referenced. As for the argument that “weightlifting must go vertical against gravity” (paraphrasing his original statement) the force plate studies conducted on KB ballistics show a very high output of force in this plane, after all the subjects were standing on a force plate.

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Just because the bell is moving more away from the center of mass does not change the force vector, it remains vertical. Given the scientific evidence presented by very credible researchers in this community, not to mention the vast amount of combined years of experience ALL producing similar results and conclusions I wouldn't give validity to his brief statements without analyzing the studies he's using to form his opinion.

Kettle bell Simple & Sinister” has been endorsed by #1 spine biomechanic in the world Prof. Stuart McGill and leading PT expert Gray Cook. Among SFG instructors you will find chiropractors, MDs, and PTs who not only coach the swing for performance but use it in rehabilitation.

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Sources
1 www.cavemantraining.com - https://www.cavemantraining.com/caveman-kettlebells/best-shoes-for-kettlebell-training/
2 shoepractitioner.com - https://shoepractitioner.com/best-shoes-for-kettlebells/
3 sabosports.com - https://sabosports.com/girevoy
4 www.strongfirst.com - https://www.strongfirst.com/community/threads/shoes-for-kettlebell-training.13622/